Golden Age Society transports seniors back to high school

‘Senior prom’ held at O’Neill’s

By Stephanie Meditz

The Golden Age Society, a senior group at St. Mary’s Winfield church in Woodside, turned up the rock-and-roll tunes and opened the dance floor to its members last week.

Prom king Herbie Wiley poses with his queen, Catherine Berger.

Members of the society came together to socialize, dance, and reminisce on their high school days at a “senior prom” at O’Neill’s in Maspeth.

The Golden Age Society typically hosts parties like this twice a year, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for seniors to spend time together.

Father Rolvin Romero, a visiting priest at St. Mary’s church for the summer, is grateful to be in the U.S. after two years of travel restrictions.

He is currently studying canon law in Spain, where he will return in the fall to pursue a doctorate.

He emphasized the importance of social interaction for seniors and is glad that the Golden Age Society could finally get together again.

“I know that they were trying so hard to get people back because there are still people, I guess, who are afraid to go out of their houses,” he said. “It’s a good thing to gather them again and we have to go on with a new normal.”

Usually, Father Romero only interacts with the seniors when they attend Mass, so he was honored to be invited to the prom.

“It’s very nice to bond with these wonderful seniors,” he said. “I am Filipino and we value our family ties, we value our grandparents, and so it’s like this is to be with my grandparents.”

Carol Cappiello has been a member of St. Mary’s parish since 1968 and worked in the rectory for 19 years.

As a member of the Golden Age Society, she is grateful for the chance to meet new people and keep in contact with old friends at meetings.

“It’s a nice place to meet and gather and socialize with all our friends that you don’t get to see every day,” she said.

The prom inspired Cappiello to recall her own prom and the loud rock-and-roll music she listened to when she was a senior at All Saints High School in Brooklyn.

Joseph Yee, another long-standing member of St. Mary’s parish, likewise reflected on his high school days at Power Memorial Academy in Manhattan, which has since closed.

He was a student there at the same time as former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whom Yee knew as “Lou.”

“We never lost a basketball game. Maybe once,” he said, proudly displaying his Power Memorial baseball cap. “That’s my claim to whatever fame that Power brings me. When I go shopping, it’s amazing how many people know about Power, not because they went to Power, but because of all the other Catholic high schools that used to get beaten by us.”

Yee was a leader of song at St. Mary’s for 30 years before he retired, and he is still an active member of the parish today.

Parishioners from St. Mary’s and St. Adalbert’s shared a table with Father Romero.

A two-time lung cancer survivor, his faith is a central aspect of his life.

“Having survived death, basically, I have a certain different perspective of life,” he said. “Your whole life is based on the Lord now… the Lord is kind and merciful.”

Yee is a member of St. Mary’s Holy Name Society and helps take up collections at the church.

“I enjoy the camaraderie of the Golden Age even though it took a while before I got used to being a Golden Ager,” he said.

In the true spirit of the event, the Golden Age Society’s current president, Carol Smykowski, crowned Herbie Wiley and Catherine Berger king and queen of the prom.

Smykowski recalled a previous event at which Wiley danced with Berger by spinning her around in her wheelchair. The two shared a “first dance” at the prom as well.

Donning her rhinestone tiara, 85-year-old Berger remembered a beauty contest that she won as a teenager.

She is grateful to the Golden Age Society for keeping her close to the friends she has made over the years.

Wiley, a first-year member of the society, did not expect to win the title of prom king.

“I had a great time, it’s been a great year. And I was lucky they chose me as the king,” he said, showing off his bow tie. “I did wear my tuxedo.”

The Golden Age Society is open to all community members ages 50 and older. Members come from various places, including AARP and the parishes of St. Mary’s, St. Adalbert’s, and St. Sebastian’s.

Jean Bednarczyk, a member of AARP and St. Mary’s parish, loves the community aspect of the society, especially in wake of the pandemic.

“At this point in my life, I want to socialize with people,” she said. “For so long, we couldn’t get together… now, things are opening up, so it’s nice to get out and mingle again.”

The group meets on Tuesdays from noon to 3 p.m. in the parish room at St. Mary’s to play Bingo or cards and socialize over cake and coffee.

As president of the society, Smykowski works to ensure that it brings seniors together “not just as a community, but as friends.”

“I really like this group, I like what I’m doing,” she said. “They like to have fun, and that’s what I like. This is my first full year as president, so I try to come up with some different ideas.”